I’m not as fun as I used to be

This morning a woman named Tara, who I follow on Facebook and who I have really grown to admire although we’ve never met, posted that she was told she wasn’t as fun as she used to be. See, in her everyday life, she sees children starving and women traveling hours to get simple maternity care down in Haiti, and then she reads New York Times articles about hot-dog eating contests where the winner eats 65 hotdogs, and it is annoying and even repulsive to her.

And she has every right to feel that way. That disparity should bother her and us – it should get under our skin. And if talking about it makes us less fun, well then we should be less fun.

I live in an area where there aren’t just houses around us, there are amazing estates. And oh how I love them. Giant beautiful houses on multi-acre lots, with land and pools and ponds and horses. And I love to drive around and look at them, imagining moving our kids into a place like that. I love to imagine a day in the future when we get a pool, or imagine taking our kids on a grand beach vacation. I badly want a minivan with the fancy doors that open with the touch of a button, and every time I walk into a store all the lovely clothes and jewelry entice. There are things in our world that are beautiful and alluring and it is easy to covet what we don’t have.

Sometimes I can go weeks imagining and planning a future that has more, bigger, faster, nicer.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:16

And then I get home and I read this article about one of the ministries my friend Tara is associated with. Please take a moment to read it. Please. This is real and they need help. This ministry lost 9 children in the past 2 1/2 weeks, and they have a desperate need for money for ICU nurses. They don’t even need much, less than $6000. Please click the link and check it out. Together we can help them accomplish this.

And seeing that changes me. It makes me mindful, and some people would say not as fun as I used to be. But you see – the world has grown smaller and the hurting are harder to ignore. Because of the miracle of technology, I can be in the car, driving past the beautiful houses, and I can pull over and use my amazing iPhone to jump on Tara’s blog (or any number of other blogs or Facebook pages of ministries on the ground around the world) and I can see what their exact needs are. And I can click the Paypal donate link, and send money to relieve those needs right then. The starving have a voice now, and we have to close our eyes to not see them. We have to willfully ignore the little girl that weighs 14 pounds at 5 years-old. But when we look, when we really look, when we see them not just as hopeless situations but as opportunities to take care of the least of these as Jesus commanded, then the things we covet start to look a little faded, a little showy.

This stuff does bother me, and the dueling desires in me, the desire for beautiful things and the desire to make a difference around the world for Christ, they battle all-day-long every single day. And it makes me a little less fun. I don’t blog about Pinterest projects or cooking ideas, I blog about this stuff. Because it is on my heart and mind and it is something I am battling through. I have to mindfully, willfully ignore and combat the pull to materialism in the world around me. And I can fail miserably. There are still many days where an Amazon box arrives at my house full of things I don’t really need or I’ll spend all day researching Honda Odysseys (those vans are stinking amazing). And there are days where I take a slow drive past the beautiful houses, imagining owning something like that. But on those days, I say a little prayer. It isn’t selfless – in fact it’s pretty selfish and small sometimes. I say something like this, “Lord, this world is not my home. This world is not my home. Help me remember that. Please forgive me. Help me not to covet and allow me to make a difference in this world. Use me to rescue people and share your love and bring you glory. Please don’t let me be enticed by things I do not need. Please set my mind on things above. I know it sounds crazy, but please give my kids a fancy mansion in heaven with horses and ponds and pools and land. Let them draw the skies and dance across fields (without fear of snakes or bugs or allergies). I believe we want the beautiful things for a reason, we were made to want them and we have a future full of them, and for that I am truly grateful. Please help me to wait and to trust you that the unseen greatly exceeds the seen.”

It is hard to fight my nature, and because of that, I am not as fun as I used to be. But I wouldn’t change it. Because this is real and the world is small and the hurting are all around us, and we can make a difference around the world with just a click.

I did a little search for verses about materialism – and wow are they tough. They make it clear that this isn’t a “harmless” struggle – this is life or death stuff for our souls. Here are a few of the verses I found – and there are many more. Lord change our hearts and help us to desire what you desire. 

  • Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
  • And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  • “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
  • But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17
  • Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17
  • “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’. “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” Matthew 25:31-46
  • This is the kind of fast day I’m after:  to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.  What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.  Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.  Your righteousness will pave your way.  The God of glory will secure your passage.  Then when you pray, God will answer.  You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’  “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go.  I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—  firm muscles, strong bones.  You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.  You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.  You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. Isaiah 58: 6-12 (Message version)

An update: The ICU Nannies were funded for the first 6 months! Praise God! http://www.realhopeforhaiti.org/?p=7991

Kisses from Katie

Oh my friends – I just finished a book that absolutely shook me up (in the best way possible). Kisses from Katie – the story of a girl who followed the Lord to Uganda at 19 years-old. I had heard about this book, and this girl, for a while. So I came to the story with expectations and assumptions.

And they were blown out of the water.

Katie’s perspective on life and ministry is unbelievable and yet absolutely right in every way. She takes the Bible and Jesus seriously and she is changing lives as she follows Him and says “Yes”. I actually cried reading it (and that’s unexpected for me), I highlighted more than half of it, and followed Justin around reading parts. It’s the kind of book you have to put down and process because it so changes the way you think and relate, and it makes you want to do something meaningful with your life.  She says over and over (and I believe her) that she is an ordinary girl saying yes to an extraordinary God, and He is working extraordinary miracles all around her. It’s not just about justice or mission, although it certain is one of the best books on justice I’ve ever read. It’s about faith and life and possessions and purpose and motherhood and pain and how God intends us to live our days on this earth.

Please get this book.

I struggle to know a passage to share, because truly, so many were absolutely precious and profound, but here’s an example of why this book will forever be one of my favorites:

“I learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred school children and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for. 

Many days, I am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need and the incredible number of people who need help. Many days I see the destitute, disease-ridden children lining the streets in the communities I serve and I want to scoop up every single one of them, take them home with me, and feed and clothe and love them. And I look at the life of my Savior, who stopped for one. 

So I keep stopping and loving one person at a time. Because this is my call as a Christian. I can only do what one woman can do, but I will do what I can. Daily, the Jesus who wrecked my life enables me to do so much more than I ever thought possible.” 

And another passage I loved here:

“I do not know my five-year plan, even tomorrow will probably not go as I have planned. I am thrilled and I am terrified, in a good way. Some call it courage; some call it foolish; I call it faith. I choose to get out of the boat. Sometimes I walk straight into His arms. More often, I get scared and look down and stumble. Sometimes I almost completely drown. And through it all, He never lets go of my hand.

Lord may we choose you every moment of every day. We want to be fully committed to You. We want every day to become a day we say “yes” to You. We repent for lukewarmness, from mediocrity, from normalcy. We want to shine so brightly for You that others can’t help but see and feel Your love. Let us look at every encounter as an opportunity to show Your love. Lord, on the days where helping just one more person seems like too much, help me to choose You. on the days when Satan whispers, “You can’t save everyone, why are you trying?” let me choose You. On the days when it would be too easy to pop in a movie for my children instead of reading Scripture with them, let me choose You. When harsh words are easier to find than kind ones, let me choose You. Father, like Paul, I know what I want to do, what I should do, and yet I find myself failing and discouraged. Thank You for Your grace. Thank You that You who sit so high would look low upon people like me and use us as a vessel for You. How blessed we are to even be called servants, to be able to share in Your kingdom and share Your love with others. Thank You for the cross, where You have given us peace and holiness. Father, we long to say Yes to You.”

Here’s the video trailer of the book: 

Brace yourself friends… this one is beyond challenging. I pray we will be changed.

Jen the (Very Worst) Minister’s Wife

So it’s official. I am married to a minister.

Last week, Southlake Baptist licensed Justin as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you what the past year has meant to me as I’ve seen my husband valued by this church. I’ve prayed since we were engaged that men, especially, would believe in him and mentor him and that prayer has definitely been answered.

They love him. I mean, love him. They trust him, they recognize his brilliance and wise heart, they think he is hilarious, and they encourage him everyday. I have watched him bloom (I wish I could think of a more manly way to say that, but it’s true and that’s all I can come up with. So he’s bloomed, but in the most masculine way possible like a cactus or a pine tree). He is more himself than I’ve ever seen him be. Even the technical aspects of his job have improved. He’s more comfortable on stage – more real. His leading perfectly fits who this church is and where they want to go. And people respond to that – they connect with and worship the Lord under his leadership. It has been really fun to experience.

He’s a minister. He always has been one , really – but now we get the awesome tax benefits.

And I am a minister’s wife. That part, truthfully, kind of freaks me out. I sometimes fear that by being myself I might screw this whole thing up for him.

I’m far from perfect. I mean – really far. I often wish I could sleep in on Sunday, I have my doubts about some of the more confusing aspects of our faith, I am strongly opinionated about  the role of women in the church, I can be proud and stubborn about almost anything (even stupid things), I really dislike most contemporary Christian music and Christian subculture, I have recently discovered a love for wine, and I think a well-placed curse word can be absolutely hilarious.

Sometimes I feel like being a minister’s wife means I have to change who I am. But I’m 35 years-old and I’ve lived most of my life uncomfortable in my own skin, and by God’s grace I’ve finally gotten to a place where I feel at home being Jen.

I don’t want to pretend anymore. I like who God made me to be. I think I’m finally getting pretty good at it.

I love authenticity. I like confessing my sins to others and seeing how God redeems and deepens community after confession. I love messy relationships and complex conversations. I love having a drink with a searching person and seeing them open up to discuss the Lord from an unexpected angle. I see God in art and music even when the people creating it probably don’t know they are reflecting the Creator of all. I believe that God can redeem anything – and I believe being in the world but not of it means just that.

So here I am – a newly licensed minister’s wife. And I have a choice to make. Be myself and trust, or hide who I am out of fear of retribution. I choose to trust. I think that just as Justin has trusted the staff and elders of SBC with every aspect of his being and personality, I need to do the same. We’ve come to know them well and we know that they believe in redemption, not perfection. They have treated us with nothing but grace and love, and they seek the heart of the Lord. I choose to trust and be myself.

I will never be a perfect minister’s wife, mostly because I am a sinner saved by grace. But I have a God who is sanctifying me and smoothing over my rough edges and who chooses to use me despite my failings. And for that I am so incredibly grateful.

So here I am, quite possibly the very worst minister’s wife ever*, but excited to see what God does with this stage of our life. We are grateful for you, people and staff of Southlake Baptist, and for Christ in you. Thank you for trusting Justin and honoring his commitment to the Lord. You have been used by God to encourage our family in more ways than you can know.

(*Bekah adds “ever” to the end of every sentence when she is mad. It’s hilarious. For example, “Grace, I will eat my sandwich and you won’t get a bite, EVER!” To see that little person so passionate makes me laugh every stinking time. So in her honor, I threw an “ever” in there for emphasis.)

I Will Praise Him.

Something amazing happened this week. A friend reached out to me with a pretty strange request. She wanted to come meet with me and pray with me in our home. She knew the Lord was telling her to do this and when she called me, I knew the Lord was telling us to do this. I gathered my sister to join us, and called a couple of women around the country to join with us in spirit. We didn’t know what the Lord was going to do – but we knew He had something to do.

All day I felt a sense of anticipation and excitement.

We gathered and prayed – walking through our house. These precious women lifted each member of my family and our struggles to the Father as they walked. They prayed over our home, over our stuff, over where we sleep and eat and live each day.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

We sang in gratitude. We cried in need of God. We spoke scriptures of truth and power over each area of our life and over the center of our home.

Every crevice of our need, and every inch of our house, was bathed in prayer and lifted before the Father.

It was powerful. It was grace. It was church.

This morning the grace continued. Our Pastor preached from Daniel on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (the three men who were told to worship a false God, but they refused because they were faithful, so they were thrown into a fiery furnace by an evil king. But the fire did not burn them, and when the king looked in to see why they did not burn, he saw a fourth man in the fire. The king pulled them out, repented, and worshipped God because of what he had seen). It was good to be reminded of the fourth man in the fire – Jesus Himself. Our Pastor wept before us as he talked about how near Jesus is to us when we are waiting, in the fire, for rescue.

God not only sees us in our pain, but he joins us there.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43

Justin and I both were moved by the service. We can testify to this truth. We have waited, and while we have waited, Jesus has been near. This week, and that prayer time, was another example of His faithfulness and love for us.

I don’t know why this week is different, but I know it is.

I don’t know how it is a turning point, but I believe that it is.

And I don’t know what the Lord’s plans are for us, but I know they are good.

I know we are loved with an everlasting love.

I know we are free and we have power and grace available to us to have victory in what we are facing.

I will praise Him.

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says. “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banished them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so the they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.  Jeremiah 32: 37-43

Blessings for the Unemployed

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Empathy for the Unemployed and got some great response.  Today, I wanted to write about the blessings we have found in unemployment.  Each of these things has been unexpected and I’m sure I’m going to forget some as I write, but I do want to try to record them to encourage people who are in our shoes (as are almost 26% of the American workforce).  For those of you walking with us (Janna, Aaron, Danna, Bryan, Kelli, Marnie and many others), we are praying you find these same blessings on your journey.

The deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine

First – we have learned that God is faithful. He has been our Provider, our Defender, our Peace, our Saviour, our Healer, our Comforter, our Strength, our Defense, our Guide, our Rock, our Father.  He has been patient with me beyond my imagination.  I have learned that I can be weak, pathetic, angry, pitiful, petty, doubting, crazy, and divisive and through it all He has been forgiving, patient, loving, near, faithful, peaceful, present, consistent, calm, determined.  I cannot wear Him out.  I cannot run from His love.  I cannot cancel out His goodness.  I have written before that I try to press into Him, but the reality of this season is that I have learned He presses into me.

Second – we have learned what we are capable of enduring.  We are strong.  Stronger than we ever imagined.  With God’s help and His amazing grace, there are times where the yoke has been easy and the burden has been light, even when circumstances and situations seemed impossible.  It is amazing.  There are times where some of our friends or family have been more deeply burdened for us than we ourselves have felt.  We know this “burden bearing” is a gift from the Lord and many of you have helped us carry our burden and we are grateful for you.

Third – we have learned to let go. Money is less important.  Our plan is less important.  Possessions are less important.  We have learned the value of the tithe and the offering.  I tell you this not so you can think we are great, but so you can be encouraged.  We now make about 40- 50% of what we made a year ago.  And yet because of God’s provision, we have not missed a payment and have been able to give every month.  We have learned how to put the first thing first.  Last year we had a “giving goal” we wanted to hit as a family.   When Justin was laid off – I wondered if we would miss our goal.  We continued to give and when tax season rolled around, I was thrilled and grateful to see we had surpassed our goal, despite our circumstance.  It excited me to know that even in our need, God could use us to give. We still had a purpose greater than ourselves.  Justin and I have learned that we are merely a channel through which blessings flow.

Fourth – we have learned to see this as a season of opportunity. Although the employment doors haven’t opened for us, the doors of ministry have opened.  When you are struggling to find work or make ends meet, people share.  They share their struggles.  They share scripture.  They share that they are praying for you and you pray for them.  I have worked in the corporate world for years, and have found “spiritual discussions” hard to come by. Not so during this season.  I have had more spiritual conversations out of this than I ever imagined.  People relate to vulnerability, in our case more than they related to us when we were “full-time ministers.”  It is crazy that in this time when I am not a “professional minister,” I have found personal ministry to be abundant.  We have LOVED that part of this road.  We pray that connection continues even after this journey is over.  We pray we will always be empathetic to the needs and vulnerabilities of others, and that our ministry is more personal than professional from this point forward.

Fifth – we have learned about friendship. There are some people who, much like the Lord has done, have pressed into us during this season.  They have overlooked my stress, my exhaustion, my self-absorption, my confusion, and have offered me friendship.  There may be times where I can’t give back, even on an emotional level, and yet they are consistent.  You learn, walking through something like this, that you have some amazing friends.  I sat on the couch of a dear friend this week and for a few minutes I didn’t even speak – I just laid my head down and stared off – lost in my own mind.  And she understood.  Along with this, we have learned about the Church.  The REAL Church, not the church.  It is so ironic, as a Communications Director, my job has always been defining and advertising the church to the outside world.  And yet, my entire definition of Church has been altered in this time when we have not been “officially” connected to any one church.  I always have known on an intellectual level that the Church is the people and not the building.  But I now know it on every level.  When the Lord again opens the door for us to fully connect with a church, I think we will be more equipped and ready to be the Church than ever before.

Sixth – we have learned about the most important thing. This journey has taught us even more about the glory of God.  The goal of our life isn’t earning the most, or feeling content, or buying stuff, or working hard, or raising a great family, or even being great ministers.  The goal of our life is the glory of God.  So up becomes down when heaven becomes more important than earth.  A sweet friend shared with me this prayer which perfectly illustrates what we’ve learned:

Lord high and holy, meek and lowly

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision

Where I live in the depths but I see Thee in the heights

Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up

To be low is to be high

That the broken heart is the healed heart

That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit

That the repenting soul is the victorious soul

That to have nothing is to possess it all

That to bear the cross is to wear the crown

That to give is to receive

That the valley is the place of vision

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells

And the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine

Let me find Thy light in my darkness

Thy life in my death

Thy joy in my sorrow

Thy grace in my sin

Thy riches in my poverty

Thy glory in my valley.

Seventh – we have learned about prayer. People ask all of the time what they can do for us in this time.  My answer in the past would have been to ask for prayer, but I think that would have just been a blow-off answer.  I don’t know that I knew the value of people praying for us before this time, or the value of my prayers for others.  Now I know it.  In the movie Shadowlands there was a quote about prayer that has always stuck with me.  Someone asked the CS Lewis character if he was praying to get answers.  His response was, “That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”  Yes we have prayed for something and not gotten the answer we wanted for almost eleven months.  And if the acquisition of this thing was the only reason to pray, I can see that some people would find prayer useless.  But I don’t pray to get this thing anymore.  I pray to be able to breathe.  I pray because I am helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all of the time, waking and sleeping.  And so now, that is why I pray for others.  So they can breathe.  Because they are helpless.  Because their need flows out of them all of the time, waking and sleeping.  And I pray that they, like me, would be changed and that this trial would serve to show them the faithfulness of our good God.

I know there are more – but this is a good start.  For those of you on this road with us – we love you and understand.  We relate.  And we are praying.

My One Thing

I just finished watching “It Might Get Loud” and was totally inspired and challenged.  For those of you who have not seen it, it is a documentary of a meeting between The Edge (U2), Jack White (The White Stripes), and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin).  It is the story of these three men and their dedication to their craft as three highly influential and very diverse guitarists.

Each of these men started off impressed by people who came before, and each is deeply dedicated to the perfection of their craft.  The documentary shows them playing old records and tapes of artists who inspired them.  There is a scene where Jimmy Page is in a room filled with 45s, Records, CDs, tapes and he walks that room not as a collector but as a student.  He listens to old records and knows every note – you can tell these are the things that moved him to write and record the music Led Zeppelin produced in the 70s.

None of these three men started off as an amazing musician.  Each of them began life in a relatively average way.  But because of a gift from God, a little courage to take creative risks, and a lifetime of hard work, they have become living legends.

They are each extraordinary guitarists.  If I was a person who used the word “epic” – it would apply here.

It made me think.  I have always been a person of many passions.  I never related to people who didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up.  I wanted to be everything.  My problem was narrowing it down.  In my life I have had many jobs, I have sold wigs and traded stocks, made graphics and edited video, been in ministry and traveled to produce massive corporate events. Even now I am in school with my purpose being a complete career change.

I have always related to the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” and struggled with the question of whether or not I will ever be truly extraordinary.

This documentary made me question, again, what my one thing is.  Am I, in my random weaving life of careers and jobs, average at everything because I haven’t specialized?

During the three months of therapy that changed my life, my therapist asked me what was my purpose in life.  I looked at her blankly and said, “to help people?  That’s what makes me feel fulfilled.”  She looked at me and simply said, “No.  Your purpose as a Believer is to bring God glory.  Until you figure that out and start to live like it – you’ll be miserable.”  At the time, I struggled to understand.  It seemed too simple and yet incredibly difficult.  But even tonight, her words rang true.

If my purpose in life was to perfect one craft, one career, or one skill, then yes – my randomness absolutely would hamper my success.  If Jimmy Page had continued to pursue painting as well as music professionally it is likely he would have been, at best, moderately successful in each.  But I am a bit different.  If I really believe that my purpose is bringing God glory in the places He leads me – my winding road then becomes a tool He uses to make my one thing stretch into many diverse realms.

So I have to watch myself here and not measure my success as the world measures success.  I was not a great stockbroker, or a great graphic designer.  I will hopefully be a great nurse, but that is not my primary goal in my career change.  My definition of success, my documentary at the end of my life, will be the people I have influenced in the many spheres in which the Lord has allowed me to roam.  I haven’t always understood this, and certainly haven’t always been faithful.  I remember with shame years wasted in selfishness where I was no light, love, or encouragement for anyone.  But I press on, forgiven, and asking the Lord to redeem the years the locusts have eaten and somehow even use those years.

At the end of my life I pray that people were turned towards the cross:

  • When I was an Admin at a brokerage firm
  • And a Communications Director
  • And a video girl
  • And a single woman
  • And a wife
  • And a mom
  • And a Facebook friend
  • And a blogger
  • And a student
  • And a nurse
  • And an adoptive mom
  • And even an unemployed person

Do I really believe that I can bring God glory in those realms?  Yes.  By His grace and in His power, I can.  If at the end of my life, those things have been accomplished by God’s grace and for His great glory, well then, it just might get loud as I rejoice in finally having found and accomplished my “one thing.”

The documentary is fantastic.  As a creative person – it made me want to paint and write and be fearlessly brilliant.  Watch it – you’ll be inspired.

The Other Brother

This one promises to be a long one – but it is a long time coming so thank you for bearing with me. Let me start with a story that so many of us know – the story of the Prodigal Son. But in case you don’t remember, here’s the story Jesus told from Luke 15:

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

You may know this – but this was a parable. So although on the surface level the story was about 2 brothers and a father and a homecoming, on another level the story was about the salvation of people across the world and how regardless of when we come to faith in Christ, we have the same reward (eternal life with him) because it is not our righteousness, but the righteousness and generosity of our heavenly Father that “earns” us our reward in heaven. So what Jesus was saying here, at the depths of this parable, is that the guy who serves Christ from the time he is 6 until he is 86, giving all he has and working to serve Christ for 80 years, is basically equal to the guy who lives his life selfishly but on his deathbed transfers his trust to Christ and lives a life following Christ for 11 minutes before passing from this earth. Jesus is saying our righteousness is a free gift. Period.

And truthfully, on the surface level, this story has never felt “fair” to me, and I have always related to the older son. Isn’t that strange? Not sure if I’ve ever heard anyone admit that – but if you read this blog often then you know me and you know I try to confess sin on this thing whenever it comes to mind. And here it is – another of my sins I am here today to confess – resentment.

Resentment the feeling of indignation at some act, remark, or person regarded as causing injury or insult.

I looked up resentment in the thesaurus – and the synonyms shamed me. acerbity, acrimony, animosity, animus, annoyance, antagonism, bitterness, choler, cynicism, displeasure, dudgeon, exacerbation, exasperation, fog, fury, grudge, huff, hurt, ill feeling, ill will, indignation, ire, irritation, malice, malignity, miff, offense, outrage, passion, perturbation, pique, rage, rancor, rise, spite, umbrage, vehemence, vexation, wrath

Resentment is the name of the emotion the older brother experienced in the story of the Prodigal Son. And I can’t blame him – this guy was faithful, he labored and stayed and cared for his father, he watched his father broken by a son who rejected him, he picked up the pieces when his brother walked away. I’m sure that while his brother was gone, he bounced back and forth from missing him to hating him for what he had done. I’m sure he had times where he imagined the scenario of his brother coming crawling back home – and in his wildest imaginings he never anticipated a celebration like the one his father was throwing. His feelings were natural, right? I can see how he’d feel that way. But we have to be careful – as Believers in Christ, we don’t have the liberty of allowing our “natural feelings” to dictate our responses. Christianity isn’t about natural feelings – it is about the supernatural dying of ourselves in surrender to a God who loves us and allows us to be a part of His story. Resentment is certainly a natural emotion, as old as Adam and Eve. I wasn’t around then, but my guess is that resentment is what drove Cain to kill Abel. And we can be lulled into thinking that resentment is only a “natural” response to an injustice – but there is nothing natural about resentment. It is a serious sin not only against the person I resent, but against the God who calls me to peace and love.

Here is how this plays out for me – and how I have come to battle it in my life. I am the oldest of three kids – and it isn’t false humility when I say that I am the least remarkable of the three. My brother is a handsome, personable, hilarious, charismatic guy. I have yet to meet a person who knows my brother and doesn’t love him. He is a great husband and he loves his wife as Christ loves the church. He is active and involved in his kids’ world – they adore him. He is a 6 foot 5 inch tall fireman with a Masters Degree from Texas A & M. People are drawn to him and naturally follow him. My sister is, literally, a miracle. Doctors said she would never be born, but she was, and she is captivating. She is beautiful inside and out, gifted, precious, artsy and together. She sees and captures the world in an innocent powerful way through her photography. She graduated from Texas A & M and is now overseas on a long-term mission assignment. People adore her – I truly don’t know anyone more loved than Jess. So I grew up with both of my siblings pretty much revered in our family – and that feeling is justified – they are both remarkable people. I never felt smaller – just ordinary by comparison. I love my brother and sister. They are absolutely my best friends. I love talking to them and processing my day-to-day life in this world with them. I do not want to resent them. And yet sometimes I do.

So what do I do with that? What do I do when my own mind seems to be trying to drive a wedge between me and two people who I adore? Why do I, a mostly secure 34-year-old, still bristle when one of my siblings gets attention over me? And it isn’t just my siblings that fall prey to my resentment. Friends, co-laborers in ministry, other women who get placed into positions of leadership – all can be subject to my resentful heart at times.

So what is that?

I think it is further evidence of a broken world, a heart born to sin, and an enemy who wants to divide and conquer.

So how do I defeat it? How do I push away the spirit of resentment?

First of all – I acknowledge the lie. I am not, in any way, in competition with any other human on this planet. We are all 100% equal and it does not take anything from me when another gets praised. So that feeling of competition and of resentment – it is a lie that needs to be battled. Just like we battle thoughts of lust against anyone who is not our spouse, or thoughts of hate towards someone who wronged us, we battle this. We do not sit idly by and allow these thoughts to rule and reign our life. Because they will, if not fought, rule and reign. Anything, if left alone, gravitates towards death and decay. Only by fighting these lies and these thoughts, dragging them into the light, and confessing them to the King of Kings do we have any hope of victory.

Second – I acknowledge the battle and therefore, the enemy. I have found, and this is a recent discovery, that the times when I resent someone the most are the times when I should press into that person. If we know we have an enemy who is everyday trying to thwart anything good we may do for the Kingdom of God, and we know that only in community can we grow, then we have to realize that the enemy is going to build walls against our community with people who could help us grow and accomplish the things God has for us to accomplish. So how does this work? It means I take note when I start to resent someone, because our battle is never against another Believer. For example, a few weeks ago I had this sneaking feeling of resentment against my friend Kelli after she told me that she and her husband were looking into adoption. This left me feeling confused and frustrated with myself- why would I feel this way when I love Kelli and love adoption? Oh yea – I forgot – we are in a battle and we have an enemy. So I confessed that feeling and I fought to get in community with Kelli – I call her and we go to coffee and we discuss adoption and we realize we can help each other. I have a role to play in her adoption, and she in mine. We begin to feed each other books and encouragement and begin to work together on our common goal of adoption. Don’t you think that is why I resented her in the first place? Don’t you think the enemy of our souls saw the power in a relationship between two women who genuinely want to rescue those being led away to death, so he tried to sow resentment into my mind to thwart that idea?

I have found this principle to be really powerful in my day-to-day life. When I resent Joe for his charisma, I realize his charisma is a gift from God in his life and I also benefit from that gift. His gifts bring God glory and equip him to do what God called him to do. His faith would be severely tested if we was a follower as a fireman, but as a leader he can draw men to Christ instead of being drawn away. It benefits our family because he is a natural leader, and we can follow his lead and doors will open to us. When I resent Jess for her “miracle” status, I realize she is the greatest gift the Lord has ever given me, and I myself have benefitted from that miracle more than anyone else. Why would I resent what has only blessed my life? She is overseas doing missions and she shouldn’t even be breathing – so think of the lives touched by our miracle. When I look at people this way, I begin to see how irrational this idea of resentment is in my life. I begin to see how dangerous these wedges are between us and I begin to dwell in gratitude for the gifts the Lord has given people close to me, gifts that I directly benefit from when I am in Biblical community with these people.

I realize that I am not threatened by the gifts and grace given another. Ever.

Third – I confess this resentment as sin. It is not my brother’s problem that he is amazing, nor is it my sister’s. It is not Kelli’s problem that the Lord has moved her family to consider adoption. Those are all incredibly wonderful things. This junk in my head is my problem. And I need to confess it and fight it and choose to love the people around me that the Lord is blessing. I choose not to be a child stomping my foot because I didn’t get chosen first. I will not be that person. I was a child, but I am an adult now, and I will act like one. So I confess my sin and shame and ask the Lord to cleanse me of this nasty, awful sin of resentment. It is not okay to feel this way – and I will not allow it to continue.

Fourth – I trust the God who made me. He has given me gifts. He has made me who I am. He has breathed life in me for a purpose. And with a spirit of gratitude I need to thank Him for who I am, how I have been gifted, and the doors He has opened for me. I choose not to constantly have my hand out whining for more, or comparing myself to my brothers and sisters. I will walk with my head up because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And I trust His heart that He has a reason for blessing me with some things and blessing others with different things. My perception of others being more remarkable than me is just that, my perception. There are likely things in me they find remarkable, and I am grateful. After all, we all have the same Spirit living inside of us who makes us remarkable.

Fifth – I get in community with remarkable people. I have had times in my life where I wanted to be friends with the “cool kids” – and that is not what I am talking about. Around each of us, in our spheres, are people who are incredible in a spiritual sense. They are wise and wonderful and listen to the Lord and follow His ways. Those are the people I need to be in community with. I don’t compete, I don’t resent, instead I get near them and I benefit. More and more I am convinced that Biblical community is the only way to grow in faith. So we have to get to know each other. Talk on the phone. Go to coffee. Jump into each other’s lives. Allow these people to speak into our lives (James 3:17). Let them help us process our junk.

Sixth – Fight the wedge. Watch for it, be sensitive, be prayerful, be vigilant, and no matter how we feel, don’t allow a wedge to be placed between us and another Believer. The wedge is a tactic of the enemy and our sinful hearts. It is there to divide us – and we are all one body. We cannot allow division. So we fight the wedge. Even the tiniest part of the wedge. Because once it is in there – it is not a big deal to slide it up until what divides us is overwhelming.

I always wonder if there is more to these stories than Jesus told – mostly because I like happy endings. So I always wonder if the older brother stomped off but maybe after a while, once he cooled off, maybe he came back around and sat at the head table with his brother and father and enjoyed the feast. Because I have realized it doesn’t hurt others when we are tangled up in resentment – it hurts us. The older brother was so mad at his younger brother that he stomped off and missed the party? How silly – I’m sure the party was a blast. We have to acknowledge that resentment, like unforgiveness, is a poison in our life and our soul first and foremost. And we have a choice – we can run off and dwell in resentment, away from our Father, or we can grow up, trust His heart, and join the party. Because that is what we do when we turn from resentment and spend time with the people the Lord has blessed – we get to join in the feast. And when we do – we realize that God is good and that life is sweeter in community with Him and others.

And on the deeper level of the parable – I am grateful for the even playing field only made possible by the cross of Christ. I would NEVER want a scenario where I have to earn the love or forgiveness of my Father because I would never be able to do it and I would be cut off from His grace for all eternity. The Bible says “There is none righteous” if we measure by our inherent righteousness. The Lord set it up in a merciful way – because of the blood of Christ, we who are in Christ whether for a moment, or an hour, or a lifetime ALL have access to His grace. I am so grateful for the Prodigal Son and the promise of salvation hidden between the lines of this story. The deeper message of this story is the same as the surface one – God is good and life is sweeter in community with Him and others.

Being a Consumer… of Ministry and Missions?

We live in a consumer culture (I am sure you are fully aware). The United States is one of the few nations where the service industry is larger than the manufacturing industry. In other words, we don’t so often make things as we provide services. And I believe we have all, in this service-oriented culture, become spoiled and critical. We often judge a restaurant, dealership, or retail store by the service we receive, not necessarily by the object we obtain. And it doesn’t take but one bad experience and we, with our money, walk out the door.

For many years, being on church staffs, we have talked about how people have become consumers of ministries. We shop around and find the right mix of ministries that tickle all of the right spots – we may go on Sunday mornings to this church because the preaching is great, but we go to this church on Sunday nights because the Worship is powerful, then on Tuesdays we go to this church for the Ladies Bible Study, and our teenagers go to camp with this church because that camp rocks. We judge each experience based on “customer service,” if they don’t sing the songs we like, or say the words we like, or have the building with the big slide for junior, we are out the door.

In an article entitled “Confessions of a (Recovering) Church-hopper”, the author, John Fischer, stated, “In our free-market, commodity-rich society, it’s understandable that we would approach church as we would a shopping mall of spiritual products and services. This is the way our culture operates.”

Jesus warned us that in this world we will have trouble and that this world is not our home. In Matthew 10 He said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” He knew that the deceiver, the great enemy of our souls, would be constantly at work feeding us the lies of our surrounding culture. So Jesus warned us to test everything and to be wise, to not buy into the culture mentality, but to instead have a Kingdom mentality.

I think this consumer culture has corrupted both our expectations of and our commitment to churches. And we often don’t realize that there is a price we are paying for being church shoppers – a great price. This is a culture mentality and not a Kingdom mentality. In all of that running around, true community is lost. It becomes about the show, about the experience. We become critical consumers, instead of joining into the Body of Christ and playing the vital role God intended for us to play. We become spectators instead of members of the Body and we lose sight of the church as a body of Believers that we were intended to join.

And in all of this – essentials of the faith are lost. Where do we serve? Where do we tithe? The unfortunate evidence shows we don’t. According to Barna, only 5% of church goers tithe. (Tithing is the giving back to the Lord the first 10% of what the Lord has given us).

So not only are we consumers, but we are cheap. We are interested in the best free show out there.

It is no wonder that many of us walk away from church, never to return – as do our students who have grown up treating church this way. Recent research by Barna of 2,660 twenty-somethings shows that Americans in their twenties are significantly less likely than any other age group to attend church services, to donate to churches, to be absolutely committed to Christianity, to read the Bible, or to serve as a volunteer or lay leader in churches. Without community, the purpose of the church is lost. Don’t you wonder if we are throwing away an entire generation because we have been fooled into this consumer mindset and they have watched us and this mindset is the only thing they have grown up knowing of church?  I’m sure many things play into these statistics, but I wonder if this mindset is also a part.

We must be very wise when it comes to our church membership. I am not advocating remaining in dead churches (what my husband calls country clubs – a topic I wrote about in detail last year). But I am saying we need commitment and true community, not consumption, both for ourselves and for the children who watch our every move.  We must join into the work of Christ through His church. We must give. We must serve. We must connect. We must change everyday to become more like Him.

The past few months, I have been noticing the trend towards this consumer model not only in churches and ministries, but also in missions. Don’t get me wrong – there are some great things happening in missions around the world these days. It has, and I’m grateful for it, become vogue to care for “the least of these.” Churches and Believers are using terms like “social justice” and are truly becoming interested in sharing our immense wealth with the rest of the world as well as with the single mom down the block. I do love that, and don’t want to ever discourage it.

Another incredibly positive thing that has happened in the past 20 years is an amazing infrastructure has been developed to reach the poor and lost around the world. Compassion International and WorldVision are both amazing 4-star rated charities on the ground all over the world feeding, clothing, schooling, and reaching millions of people with the Gospel of Christ. For about $30 a month you can take care of a child in another country and assure that they will be fed, cared for, and given the chance to hear the Gospel. You can pay for it automatically, write them from your laptop, and make a huge difference. This is a FANTASTIC thing.

In addition, many ministries have sprung up in recent years taking people on trips to experience what God is doing in other countries. You can journey on a short-term mission trip and visit orphanages or villages and care for people directly – sharing the love and light of Christ. This can be another wonderful thing. My husband and I met on a short-term mission trip and I have loved being a part of those in the past.

But I have begun, in recent months, to feel a conviction and a caution in my heart when considering not only going on these short-term mission trips, but also sponsoring other people to go on them. I feel we must be wary of the consumer mindset creeping into our decision making.

My sister has given me permission to share this – and hopefully it will help you see where I am coming from. My sister is about to leave on an 11 month mission trip to 11 countries. When I first heard about the trip a few months ago, truthfully, I was against it. I had a huge sense of caution, not because of the trip, but because of the expense. At the time, my sister was going to begin fundraising for the entire $15,000 that she needed for the trip. I felt like it was a great potential experience for her, but I felt cautious about the fact that she was going to be asking people to donate so much money. I felt there was a huge red flag and I expressed to her my concern. In time, the Lord revealed to her that she needed to sell everything she had to raise money for the trip, and she was obedient to that call. Through the sale of her possessions and her car, she raised over 2/3 of the money needed for the trip. So although she was fundraising, she was also sacrificing. She gave her all first before she asked anyone else to give to the cause. Practically speaking, she felt that if the trip was going to be a great experience for her, the primary weight of financial responsibility needed to fall on her. At that point, my cautious feeling went away and I can now say, after watching her sacrifice this past few months, that I feel this trip is the best possible thing for my sister and I am convinced she is ready to follow this call.

This is where I have come down on this issue, and please keep in mind this is only my opinion and conviction and I understand others may disagree. I think we must be VERY wise and wary when making decisions about missions because I think the enemy can fool us here. We can allow a short-term mission trip to become an expensive safari, an experience for our benefit where we get to observe another world and take pictures and then we leave and return to our life leaving little good effect in our wake. So we spent a ton of money, but outside of us having a life-changing experience, we don’t have much to show for it.

On the other hand, because of the infrastructure in place through worthy ministries like Compassion and WorldVision, we can do a tremendous amount of good for a small amount of cash. For the cost of some of these short-term trips, we could sponsor more than 10 children for over 3 years through Compassion International. And as each of those children are changed, over the long-term, they impact others. So the ripple effect of that sponsorship has huge potential. The money goes into that community directly to make a concrete difference.

I am not saying there is not a place for short-term missions, but I believe we must be wise and we may need to only consider them after we have given our money sacrificially to other places where it possibly can do more good. There is only so much money we can give to causes, and we must be wise. There are missionaries all over the world who are long-term career missionaries giving their lives to invest in people groups. They are making a massive difference in the lives of hundreds of people and they need our support. We MUST support them before we become spectators or consumers of missions ourselves.

And we must be sacrificial. We cannot ask others to give to things when we ourselves have not given our all.

So our giving then looks like this:

1. The tithe – 10% of income to our local church where we are an invested member serving. (Biblically mandated – must be first).

2. The offering – Sacrificial giving over and above the tithe to worthy ministries.

3. The experience – Short term trips where we ourselves also benefit, that we ourselves have sacrificed to attain.

It is, after all, not about us, but about the spreading of the glory and gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not consumers then of missions, but we are contributors to the cause of missions around the world.

What do you think? What do you think are the pitfalls in our consumer culture we need to avoid when it comes to Ministry and Missions?

**Just in case someone may understand, please know I am not advocating these guidelines for the life of every Believer.  I am simply saying, as I have processed this, these are the thoughts and boundaries I have put in place in my mind to test these things and see if I am buying a mindset that is not holy.  So if you have a concern or think I am imposing rules on you, please know first of all that I am not, and please feel free to reach out to me**